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200 Days in the Life of the College

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Changes to Honor Code faced a trial by fire

By Russ Doubleday ’11

The Honor Code, which requires all students not only to refrain from cheating but also to report anyone else they suspect of cheating, has been a hallmark of a Hamilton education for more than a century. It has evolved over time, but changes are never made lightly.

The most recent update to the Code, implemented in spring 2010, had been in the works for more than a year. But it took the initiative of Tyler Roberts ’12, who had just assumed the Honor Court chair, to push for these changes, first through the Student Assembly, then the entire student body and finally the College faculty — all in one semester.

The changes expand and clarify the examples of student work and media in which plagiarism and cheating can occur, making particular reference to “electronic sources.” They also establish clearly that a first violation may be met with multiple sanctions, and that an “XF” grade received for academic dishonesty may now be designated by the Honor Court as either permanent or removable, but that it cannot be removed after graduation. While the impetus for change was a shift in the College’s grading system that left some of the Code’s language outdated and confusing, the Honor Court decided that it also offered a good opportunity “to review and update the entire document,” Roberts says.

The changes sailed through Student Assembly, and the student body strongly supported them in a referendum. Getting them through the faculty at the end of the semester, however, proved to be a much more arduous task. For more than an hour, supported by Associate Dean of Students Karen Brewer, Roberts defended the changes with aplomb and diplomacy, parrying pointed questions and challenges from faculty members. “The faculty focused on some proposed changes that had been uncontroversial with students, while not mentioning others that we expected to be divisive,” Roberts says. “In the end, that’s probably for the best, as it meant that all of the changes were scrutinized.”

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Ultimately, the measure passed by an overwhelming margin. As one professor acknowledged, “If students want these changes, then we should support them too.” Roberts agrees: “Students are more likely to follow a Code that they personally consent to and have input on than one that is imposed upon them by others.”

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